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Senate tosses budget ball back to House

Less than 24-hours from a government shutdown, congressional lawmakers trade barbs and point fingers

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. (left), looks on as Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and other Republican House members call on Senate Democrats to "come back to work." Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen

Senate tosses budget ball back to House

UPDATE (3:15 p.m.): The Senate voted 54-46 to strip two anti-Obamacare provisions from the budget bill the House approved early Sunday. The measures would have delayed the healthcare law’s implementation for a year and killed a tax on medical devices. The continuing resolution now goes back to the House, with less than 10 hours before the government theoretically shuts down. Most of the government’s vital functions would not be affected if the midnight deadline comes and goes with no action.

EARLIER REPORT: WASHINGTON—When House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, arrived on Capitol Hill on Saturday morning for a rare weekend legislative session, reporters asked how he felt with lawmakers just days from facing a government shutdown.

“Like a happy warrior,” Boehner replied.

About 14 hours later, in Sunday’s early morning hours, the Republican-led House, driven by its wing of fiscal conservatives, voted to fund the government through Dec. 15 as long as the Senate agrees to delay Obamacare’s implementation for one year.

“The House once again took action tonight to keep the government open, control spending, and protect the American people from this unworkable healthcare law,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “It is now up to the Senate to quickly act to give hardworking taxpayers what they expect and deserve—no government shut down and no Obamacare.”

The Democratic-controlled Senate wasted no time reaffirming its position that it will not negotiate when it comes to Obamacare and government funding. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the House vote “pointless.” He reiterated that the Senate will reject and President Barack Obama will veto any changes to Obamacare proposed by House Republicans.

“After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean [continuing resolution], or force a Republican government shutdown,” Reid said. “But the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.”

With the nation facing two potential landmark events at midnight Monday—the start of Obamacare and a potential government shutdown—congressional lawmakers are in full blame-game mode.

With the Senate not meeting over the weekend, House Republicans on Sunday held a press conference in front of the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol. Republicans argued that the Senate’s decision not to work over the weekend gives lawmakers less time to come to an agreement before the government runs out of funding.

“We see the Senate doors are shut,” McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said. “They’re locked. Sen. Harry Reid says it is ‘inevitable’ that the government is going to shut down. Well if the Senate doesn’t act, it may be inevitable. But we’re here to say that the Senate needs to act. Why are they waiting? Why aren't those doors open?”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said House Republicans have offered a compromise, replacing their original push to defund Obamacare with the new measure to delay it.

“This president negotiates with all kinds of despots and terrorist leaders,” Rohrabacher said. “He won’t even negotiate with us.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have taken to calling the pending shutdown the “Republican government shutdown.”

It is a safe bet that the mainstream media narrative arising out of any shutdown will blame Republicans for going after Obamacare more than Democrats for protecting an increasingly unpopular and uncertain law.

“Republicans will probably get blamed for whatever happens,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

Because they have the blame-game advantage, President Obama and Senate Democrats can resist negotiating, run out the clock, and watch Republicans bear the brunt of the fallout. A recent Gallup poll showed that Obama’s approval rating is down to 43 percent—the highest it has been in six weeks. But with the public fixated on the government shutdown debate, and with the narrative of Republicans not going along with the president’s objectives, the focus has shifted away from Obama’s other problems, including the ongoing situation with Syria’s chemical weapons.

In recent speeches, Obama has continued to paint Republicans as the villains. “It’s so disturbing that Republicans in Congress are threatening to shut down the government—or worse—if I don’t agree to gut this law,” the president said over the weekend in reference to Obamacare. “Republicans in the House have been more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party. …”

But despite the ongoing media beating, Franks said Saturday, “Republicans are extremely unified at this point. … It remains to us to do the right thing, and at least maintain the focus on the country, and hopefully the politics in the end will take care of itself.”

The House bill to keep the government running, now resting in the Senate, also permanently repeals Obamacare’s medical device tax. This 2.3 percent tax is set to raise $30 billion for Obamacare. But it threatens to send jobs overseas as medical manufacturers look for ways to avoid it.

Support for killing this measure has been bipartisan: Earlier this year, 34 Senate Democrats voted to repeal it. The two Democratic senators from New York signed a letter last year asking for the tax to be delayed. The two Democratic senators from Minnesota in July called for the tax to be repealed. But in a sign of the breakdown between the two parties in Congress, Reid said the Senate would not consider repealing the medical device tax within the government-funding bill.

The House bill to delay Obamacare for one year would mean a delay for taxpayer subsidies of insurance plans that contain elective abortion coverage. The House bill, likely to be rejected by the Senate, also contains a sentence providing conscience protections to employers and individuals who have moral and religious objections to providing the abortion coverage found in the new law.

“With the [mandate] to provide abortion drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization, millions of Americans—from Hobby Lobby to the Little Sisters of the Poor—are currently being forced to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

While Republicans and Democrats continue to fight it out, polls show that an increasing number of Americans do not want either a government shutdown or Obamacare. Support for the healthcare reform package is down to less than 40 percent. With the government funding bill now in the Senate, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the debate is still a forum for conservatives to continue to bring their case against Obamacare to Americans: “We have to persuade [voters] that sitting back and doing nothing is not acceptable, not when the government is trying to take over our healthcare system.”

Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is the executive director of the World Journalism Institute and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and teaches journalism at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

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